Kevin Smith’s lowbrow youth comedy “Mallrats,” his bigger-budget follow-up to his wildly entertaining no-budget debut, “Clerks,” would seem like a bizarre candidate for a deluxe DVD. After all, the not only was a most resounding flop with critics and at the box office, Smith himself apologized for the film (in jest, but still) at the 1996 Independent Spirit Awards. Ironically, though, after wading through the extensive amount of supplemental material on Universal’s collector’s edition disc, it’s apparent that such a film makes ideal fodder for such an in-depth treatment–that is, with the right approach. Instead of using the DVD release as a mere way for a flop to be rediscovered (as is oftentimes the case), Universal has used the medium’s flexibility and depth as a way for the film’s makers to reexamine and reevaluate, warts and all, a less-than-worthy film.
I had not seen “Mallrats” since its brief theatrical run in the fall of 1995, and watching the film with fairly fresh eyes a number of years later, I must say that the film hasn’t gotten any better with age; it’s still the same sophomoric silliness I assessed as such during the time of its release. The film is about Brodie (Jason Lee) and T.S. (Jeremy London), who attempt to win back their respective ex-girlfriends, Rene (Shannen Doherty) and (Claire Forlani) during one long day at the mall. Appearing every so often to help our heroes are the recurring duo that turn up in all of Smith’s films, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), who engage in all manner of straight-from-comic-books derring-do.
While the film is as ridiculous as it sounds, if not moreso, the supplemental material on the DVD is a lot more interesting than a disc would normally entail. By basic definition, the extras are not unlike any you’d find on any other disc: theatrical trailer, music video, press kit notes, cast/crew biographies, deleted scenes, feature-length commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette. But what sets this disc apart from any typical disc–make that any typical disc of a bad film–is the openly self-critical approach of the latter two features.
“View Askew’s Look Back at ‘Mallrats’,” is as its title suggests, not a basic production featurette taken from the film’s electronic press kit, but an actual look back, circa October 1998, at the film and its production. But instead of going the normally smiley-faced route and conveniently skirting the issue of what is the film’s undebated failure, Smith and his cast and crew take a hard look at the reality of and surrounding the film. Instead of a traditional fluff piece, the featurette is a fascinating look at how a film can go wrong: from initial doubts and producers’ meddling and headgames prior to filming; to more second-guessing from the top during production; to problems with marketing the eventual, troublesome project. It makes for an interesting cautionary tale for young indie filmmakers wanting to make a splash on a studio project.
My description makes the featurette appear grave in tone, but far from it; it’s actually quite light and fun. That said, it’s not nearly as jovial as the mood on the feature-length audio commentary, featuring Smith, Lee, Mewes, Ben Affleck (who played slick “Fashionable Male” proprietor Shannon Hamilton), producer Scott Mosier, and View Askew Productions historian Vincent Pereira. The usual gamut of production anecdotes and comments about camera moves (or lack thereof) are given, but the difference here is an often mocking tone; no one is afraid to have a laugh at the expense of their handiwork. It is refreshing to see a filmmaker throw all ego at the wayside and not afraid to make fun of himself-though it’s certainly clear that he does have a certain affection for the film.
One nifty added feature to the commentary is an option to see periodic video footage of the recording session; while this admittedly doesn’t add a whole lot to the viewing experience or their comments, it’s nice to see images to go with the disembodied voices every one in a while. But this is just one example of the small, not entirely necessary, yet welcome enhancements on the disc. These having each item on the deleted scene reel be introduced and their deletion explained by Smith and Pereira, and the neat “visual sound effects” (à la the old campy ’60s Batman TV series) that appear with nearly every click on the flashy animated menus.
During the commentary, Smith says that “in a way, this movie is very much ahead of its time, quite like Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.” He’s joking of course, but he actually could have a real point. Not only does “Mallrats” have a large cult following these days (hence this DVD), but two other tidbits are rather telling. Smith tells about a scene he war forced to cut from the script where semen gets into a girl’s hair, not unlike the notorious scene in the blockbuster “There’s Something About Mary,” which, in turn, prominently featured the Foundations’ “Build Me Up, Buttercup”–a song that is featured, albeit in a cover by the Goops, on the “Mallrats” soundtrack and during the film itself. Hmm. But whether or not “Mallrats” the film was ahead of its time–I, for one, don’t foresee a day where I can honestly like the film-“Mallrats” the DVD is a keeper right from the moment of its release.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Surround; English closed captioning. (Universal Studios Home Video)